Sunday, May 25, 2003

Alonso makes name on F1 circuit


Auto racing insider: Spaniard comes out of nowhere to be among top 4 in Formula One standings

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For those of you who haven't heard of Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard is doing something remarkable on the Formula One circuit.

Alonso, 21, has broken through a seemingly impenetrable wall of F1 veterans and has risen to fourth place in the overall standings driving for Renault. He leads such names as Coulthard, Schumacher (Ralf, not Michael) and Montoya.

It is an unlikely scenario that Alonso would come out of next-to-nowhere and instantly make such a significant imprint. Perhaps he's having such success because he is not exactly new at all of this.

Alonso raced in kart series in Europe for years until landing an F3000 ride in 2000. That's where Renault boss Flavio Briatore first saw the Spaniard who had grown from being an admittedly "whiny driver" to one of the rising stars of the sport.

Briatore would wait to see how Alonso performed for Formula One team Minardi during the 2001 F1 season. His best finish that year was 10th place in Germany. Renault recognized that a young star was in the making and made Alonso one of its test drivers during the 2002 season, in which Alonso drove thousands of test kilometers.

So far, he has reached three podiums in six races this season, and the rumors that his days with Renault are numbered have begun to circulate.

Right now, Alonso looks attractive to any of the "Big 3," Ferrari, McLaren or Williams. In a sport in which a driver's team (and the money that team possesses) means almost everything, landing with one of the major players in F1 could set Alonso's career.

Of course, as the points stand today, it's Alonso who has Renault looking good. His driving has placed Renault in third in the Constructors Championship, tied with Williams.

DOUBLE DUTY: The best story of the weekend hasn't happened yet, but hopefully is has a less painful end than it did last year.

Robby Gordon will attempt "the double" for the second consecutive year. The feat involves racing the Indy 500 in the early afternoon, hopping on a plane after the race, flying to Charlotte, N.C. and driving to nearby Concord, N.C. to race in the Coca-Cola 600 at night. Last year, he finished eighth at Indy and 16th in the nightcap.

Along with that, Gordon experienced severe dehydration during the NASCAR race and a painful set of abdominal muscles because of the G-Forces of two different races so close together.

So he's back this year with six-pack abs and a plan to receive intravenous fluids before and after each race that should keep him in good enough shape to drive.

NEED FOR SPEED: University of Cincinnati football coach Rick Minter isn't shy about putting down the pedal when he's cruising around town on city streets. But he figured if he really wanted to push the limit (without getting a ticket), he needed to check out the Richard Petty Driving Experience at Kentucky Speedway.

So after an hour or so of classroom instruction Friday, Minter climbed behind the wheel of a Winston Cup car.

"It's a great rush," Minter said. "I've always wanted to be able to do that, because I like to speed."

Minter got the car up to 140 mph and said the hardest part about the driving (other than getting in and out of the car) was adjusting to the G-Forces in the turns. "You have to learn to trust driving on a banked turn," Minter said. "You've got to go for it and accelerate through the turn."

Minter had two driving sessions. He said he's not marking off a checklist, but he does plan to go skydiving next month.

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E-mail ddow@enquirer.com




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